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A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide [Paperback]

Samantha Power (Author)
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews) Like (35)

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Book Description

September 18, 2007

In her award-winning interrogation of the last century of American history, Samantha Power—a former Balkan war correspondent and founding executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy—asks the haunting question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? Drawing upon exclusive interviews with Washington's top policy makers, access to newly declassified documents, and her own reporting from the modern killing fields, Power provides the answer in "A Problem from Hell," a groundbreaking work that tells the stories of the courageous Americans who risked their careers and lives in an effort to get the United States to act.

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Editorial Reviews Review

During the three years (1993-1996) Samantha Power spent covering the grisly events in Bosnia and Srebrenica, she became increasingly frustrated with how little the United States was willing to do to counteract the genocide occurring there. After much research, she discovered a pattern: "The United States had never in its history intervened to stop genocide and had in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred," she writes in this impressive book. Debunking the notion that U.S. leaders were unaware of the horrors as they were occurring against Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Iraqi Kurds, Rwandan Tutsis, and Bosnians during the past century, Power discusses how much was known and when, and argues that much human suffering could have been alleviated through a greater effort by the U.S. She does not claim that the U.S. alone could have prevented such horrors, but does make a convincing case that even a modest effort would have had significant impact. Based on declassified information, private papers, and interviews with more than 300 American policymakers, Power makes it clear that a lack of political will was the most significant factor for this failure to intervene. Some courageous U.S. leaders did work to combat and call attention to ethnic cleansing as it occurred, but the vast majority of politicians and diplomats ignored the issue, as did the American public, leading Power to note that "no U.S. president has ever suffered politically for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocide rages on." This powerful book is a call to make such indifference a thing of the past. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Power, a former journalist for U.S. News and World Report and the Economist and now the executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, offers an uncompromising and disturbing examination of 20th-century acts of genocide and U.S responses to them. In clean, unadorned prose, Power revisits the Turkish genocide directed at Armenians in 1915-1916, the Holocaust, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, Iraqi attacks on Kurdish populations, Rwanda, and Bosnian "ethnic cleansing," and in doing so, argues that U.S. intervention has been shamefully inadequate. The emotional force of Power's argument is carried by moving, sometimes almost unbearable stories of the victims and survivors of such brutality. Her analysis of U.S. politics what she casts as the State Department's unwritten rule that nonaction is better than action with a PR backlash; the Pentagon's unwillingness to see a moral imperative; an isolationist right; a suspicious left and a population unconcerned with distant nations aims to show how ingrained inertia is, even as she argues that the U.S. must reevaluate the principles it applies to foreign policy choices. In the face of firsthand accounts of genocide, invocations of geopolitical considerations and studied and repeated refusals to accept the reality of genocidal campaigns simply fail to convince, she insists. But Power also sees signs that the fight against genocide has made progress. Prominent among those who made a difference are Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew who invented the word genocide and who lobbied the U.N. to make genocide the subject of an international treaty, and Senator William Proxmire, who for 19 years spoke every day on the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge the U.S. to ratify the U.N. treaty inspired by Lemkin's work. This is a well-researched and powerful study that is both a history and a call to action. Photos.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 18, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061120146
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061120145
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (207 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,163 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I could not put this book down . . . November 4, 2003
"A Problem From Hell" is what Secretary of State Warren Christopher called the Bosnia war. After the author, Samantha Power, reported on that war, she studied the beginnings and ends of some other major genocides of the 20th century. This book is her report, and it is stunning, not as an indictment of anyone, but as a revelation to us all.

First, the beginning: Genocide begins with the policy choice of a man in command of a sovereign state to achieve state aims by killing pre-identified citizens. The book details the policies of the Young Turk Mehmed Talaat Pasha, Hitler, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Colonel Bagosora, and Slobodan Milosevic.

Second, the end: Genocide cannot be prevented or ended from the outside if respect of national sovereignty trumps other values, which it usually does. Even if international effort or an invasion from the outside runs over national sovereignty, genocide is unlikely to be stopped unless the suffering is personally witnessed. Genocide stops when individuals who MUST fight evil act to end it. The book tells the uplifting story of a number of heroic individuals who became political Good Samaritans to help the victims of genocide. The first of these was Raphael Lemkin, who coined the work "genocide." Read the book to find out who the others are -- you will be pleased and surprised to learn of the actions of some very selfless Americans.

This book was the parable of the Good Samaritan writ large. Most of us choose to walk by on the other side of the road when the thief attacks the victim, the better not to see the victim's terror and suffering. This book should jolt us out of that habit, and if you opposed our invasion of Iraq, you might find solace in knowing that we deposed a perpetrator of genocide.

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49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for concerned citizens January 1, 2004
By A Customer
It seems that instances of genocide are increasing as the world becomes a global community. This excellent book undertakes several case studies of genocide and asks why the world's countries, and the US in particular does not respond to prevent such acts against humanity.
If you dont think this book is necessary, see the review by justreviewingit below which calls the Armenian genocide the "Armenian Relocation"; this reviewer is an apologist for Turkish genocide. Holocaust deniers come in all forms and must be confronted with their evil. This book will help you do that
when you hear " Pol Pot wasn't all that bad".
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104 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Awesome Work! January 12, 2004
By A Customer
This outstanding book was difficult to put down, and even more difficult to stop thinking about. Its topic was burdensome, sad, terribly unrelenting and tragic. Samantha Power's thorough research, well documented bibliography, and clean articulate writing style made the reading of such a depressing topic interesting and compelling. This book took me about a month of careful reading to complete and I highly recommend it.

What disturbs me more than the topic of Ms. Power's book, however, is the lengthy and jumbled review below entitled "Scholarship from Hell." The reviewer is engaging in sophistry designed to discredit Ms. Power and mislead. Beginning with the phrase "Armenian Relocation" the reviewer spirals into ten, inarticulate, horribly written and confusing paragraphs whose sole intent is to misdirect and mislead. Notice the use of the phrase "Ottoman-Armenian Conflict" giving the impression of moral equivalence and balance. In paragraph three, he then attempts to discredit Ms. Power - and subsequently her book - by claiming she did not utilize "objective sources" and as having "...a lack of sufficient grounding in history to tackle a subject as sensitive and controversial as the Ottoman-Armenian conflict." There is nothing controversial or sensitive about the Armenian Genocide, and the careful construction of this babble, undermines Ms Power and devalues the awesome bulwark of research she has undertaken and produced, and is intended to mislead the reader by throwing as much junk at the wall as possible and hoping that some of it sticks. Despite the fact that Ms. Power's work is almost seven hundred pages long (with a bibliography as long as a short novel), the reviewer claims that she fails to refer to "objective scholars" in reference to the Armenian Genocide.

References used by Ms Power include numerous newspaper and magazine articles published in 1915 when supposedly this "sensitive" and "controversial" "Ottoman-Armenian conflict" was at its height. The New York Times had very little doubt about what was occurring in Anatolia since in 1915 alone the Times published almost two hundred detailed articles - including dates, numbers of casualties, villages destroyed etc - about the slaughter of innocent Armenian men, women and children by the Ottoman Army.

Ms Power also references Henry Morgenthau the United States Ambassador to Turkey during World War One. It is almost comical to read the lame attempt by the reviewer at discrediting an ambassador of the United States, and the ridiculous suggestion that if you really want to understand Ambassador Morgenthau's memoirs and his "interpretation" of the "controversy regarding the Ottoman-Armenian conflict" that a book by some offbeat writer gives more information than Morgenthau's own words. Apparently his idea of an objective source does not include the memoirs of a U.S. Ambassador - nor the army of diplomats British, French and American - who were strewn all over Anatolia and who wrote voluminous accounts of the well organized genocide.

Other trustworthy objective references made by Ms Power include memoirs written by American and European missionaries, references to memoirs written by Ambassador Viscount Bryce (British Ambassador to the US), the renowned British historian Christopher Walker, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, Arnold Toynbee, etc. This is a stellar bibliography. In stark contrast the reviewer offers no contemporary sources for his claim that the Armenian Genocide is controversial, sensitive or can be categorized as merely a "conflict." .

In addition the reviewer says nothing about all the other Genocides covered in the book and whether or not Ms. Power did a trustworthy job of covering them. Thus, presumably, Ms. Power had the "historical grounding" and sophistication to get everything else regarding all the other genocides in these seven hundred pages correct and properly documented except for the Armenian Genocide. Of course this begs the question, if she was sufficiently ungrounded to the point of getting the Armenian Genocide incorrect why should I believe anything that she has to say about the other genocides. And conversely, if her documentation is trustworthy about all the other genocides why should I not believe that she got everything correct and properly documented regarding the Armenian genocide?

The point is Ms. Power got everything correct. Genocide scholars, Holocaust scholars and professors from around the world have hailed her book as a monumental benchmark. The goal of the reviewer is to put forth a carefully worded babbling denial that actually does more than simply deny, and does more than simply babble. The reviewer also seeks to blame the victim, and also shroud the events of 1915-1922 behind a scrim of supposed controversy where there is no controversy. The reviewer's goal is not even to re-write history, but rather to paint a situation that seems so hopelessly confused that one would need a doctorate to figure it out. The Armenian Genocide is neither "controversial" nor is it confusing, nor is it a "sensitive" issue (though I am sure it is a sensitive issue if your grandfather was one of the perpetrators of the crime) nor does one need a doctorate to understand it. The Armenian Genocide was a carefully planned genocide by Talat Pasha and Enver Pasha who used a well-trained Ottoman Army, to murder 1.5 million innocent men, women and children. It had nothing to do with World War One (except to the extent that the War was used as a cover,) it had nothing to do with the Russians, it had nothing to do with "relocation," it was all about hate, power, envy and jealousy - the Armenians were a peaceful people who had lived on their ancestral lands for 2,500 years. In "A Scholarship from Hell" the reviewer's careful rambling use of words attempts to sow confusion where none exists, and bring into question the credibility of Ms Power and her research methods, thus rendering anything she has to say irrelevant.

Ms. Power has written an awesome, trustworthy account of Genocide in the 20th century. It is a heavy, time-consuming read, but it is also one of the best non-fiction books I have read in the last five years.

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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Tiptoeing Around The G-Word
After loony Hitler and his acolytes killed 6 million Jews and millions of "undesirables" who didn't live up to Aryan standards, the Western World said, "never again." Ms. Read more
Published 23 days ago by Franklin the Mouse
1.0 out of 5 stars What about the genocides we funded?
What about the genocides funded or aided by America? The Israeli genocide of Palestinians and Armenians? The NTC genocide of black Libyans? Read more
Published 3 months ago by Seth McAvoy
1.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but lacking in objectivity
In "A Problem from Hell," Power attempts to sensitize the American public to the world-wide problem of genocide, and if judged by this particular goal, she succeeds tremendously. Read more
Published 5 months ago by insurgency_scholar
5.0 out of 5 stars A response to critics...
I will provide a brief summary of this book at the beginning of my review but since there are already 203 reviews of this book at the time I am writing I have decided to devote... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Brian C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Clearly Deserving of its Pulitzer
This book essentially asks one question: should political considerations be divorced from or an inherent part of the consideration as to whether the United States should intervene... Read more
Published 14 months ago by S. Robison
3.0 out of 5 stars Accomplishes its goal
I suppose this book accomplishes what it was intended to do; discuss America's response to the genocides of the twentieth century. Read more
Published 15 months ago by DTurner
1.0 out of 5 stars Responsibility to Protect?
Power's book is an excuse to get UN legislation passed known as the Responsibility to Protect act which would be the end of any country's right to National Sovereignty. Read more
Published 16 months ago by M. Fox
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, depressing, troubling
I'm copying my review from goodreads over. It includes ideology based on the book so for anyone that is hoping for a book report, you will be a bit disappointed. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Alden H Mackie
3.0 out of 5 stars A Single-Minded Unreasonableness
The documentary "An Unreasonable Man" uses a George Bernard Shaw quotation to highlight the social importance and relevance of Ralph Nader (the consumer advocate hero who found... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jiang Xueqin
5.0 out of 5 stars A well deserved Pulitzer Prize winner
Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell is a tour de force. In its entirely it is a marvelous historical accounting of genocide in the 20th century. Read more
Published 19 months ago by jtk
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